Black Forest residents share 'lessons learned' about June's devastating fire

By Jakob Rodgers Published: August 22, 2013 | 9:35 pm 0

Harold Haver first decided to rebuild his house after the Black Forest fire ravaged his neighborhood, reducing his green, one-story ranch house to ash and a concrete foundation.

On Thursday, he struck a different tune. For now, he's not rebuilding - a response, in part, to new building codes.

"It's no sense throwing good money after bad," he said.

Alongside about 50 other people, Haver offered his suggestions for the other homeowners looking to build in Black Forest during El Paso County's first "lesson's learned" town hall meeting.

The meeting, hosted by El Paso County Commissioners Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton, offered residents a chance to voice suggestions - good and bad - about how the fire was fought and how the recovery has fared.

A final document featuring feedback from the town halls - which are scheduled to take place once every three months - will be released in June, one year after the fire began, Glenn said.

"We need to be prepared, and we are now becoming national experts on what to do," Glenn said.

Representatives from several organizations - including AspenPointe, Crosses for Losses and Mercy's Gate - stepped up to the microphone to talk about their services, such as counseling services and rental assistance.

But most residents wanted to talk about their experiences during and after the fire.

A few voiced concerns about the fire's first few hours, when the blaze raced across miles of Black Forest. Two people died in the fire, which blackened 14,280 acres.

The firefighting strategy seemed wrong from the start, said Tony David, owner of the Black Forest Mill, LLC. Why, he asked didn't firefighters stop the blaze at any of the roads running north and south - such as Black Forest Road?

"We fought the fire from the rear," David said.

But by the same token, firefighters earned multiple rounds of applause for their work during the blaze, along with county officials.

Haver complained about fire codes in Black Forest that commissioners could soon consider. Among his complaints: Houses larger than 47,000 cubic feet must have a sprinkler system or a cistern, or pay a $5,600 fee to help firefighters pay for water cost.

Bob Harvey, chief of the fire protection district, said the sprinkler and cistern requirement was in place before the fire - but board members offered the one-time fee as a new option to homeowners who are rebuilding.

The board the oversees the fire district adopted the fee option Wednesday night. It's separate from a set of fire codes that must still be approved by the commissioners.

For many people Thursday night, the meeting simply offered a chance to vent.

Near the meeting's end, Lauren David walked up to the microphone and spoke only about the hardship she's endured by simply having to compile an inventory of items lost in the fire. Proving ownership is a typical step required by insurance companies after a fire - but it's a taxing one.

"It's completely overwhelming," she said.

An AspenPointe employee later recommended she attend a meeting where Mountain Shadows residents offer tips to Black Forest homeowners about the road ahead. The next meeting of mentors takes place 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Pinery, 12375 Black Forest Road.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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